Disney: Bob Iger returns as CEO as Bob Chapek exits | Walt Disney Company


Disney has reappointed Bob Iger as its chief executive in a surprise decision as the entertainment company ousted his hand-picked replacement, Bob Chapek, after less than three years in the job.

Iger retired from leading Disney in 2020, after delaying his exit several times to guide the company through the early stages of the coronavirus pandemic. He had spent 15 years as chief executive, to be replaced by Chapek, who formerly ran its theme parks division. Iger had stayed on as executive chairman until the end of 2021.

He will take over with immediate effect for two years, Disney said in a statement late on Sunday night.

Chapek has overseen a difficult period for Disney, with disruption from the pandemic – which forced its theme parks to close – followed by concerns over the profitability of its streaming service, Disney+. Disney+ is competing in a crowded field, and has spent billions of dollars to create new content as it tries to beat Netflix and Amazon Prime Video. While Disney’s platform has grown subscriber numbers rapidly, it has come at the cost of steep operating losses in the streaming division.

Disney has also faced pressure at its Florida base, after its public opposition to “don’t say gay” laws that ban classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in certain grades. Disney publicly opposed the laws, seen by many activists and teachers as repressive, prompting the rightwing Florida governor, Ron DeSantis, to try to strip the company of its privileges in the state.

The company’s market value has slumped by more than 40% during 2022, much worse than the 17% decline in the S&P 500 index of large US companies.

Disney highlighted a fivefold market value increase under Iger’s previous leadership. The company said Iger had a “mandate from the board to set the strategic direction for renewed growth”, while also looking once more for a long-term successor.

Under Iger, Disney made a series of big acquisitions, including the Marvel film franchise, the Pixar animation studio and the Star Wars film franchise.

Michael Antonelli, a market strategist at Baird, a US asset manager, said Iger’s return was “probably the most significant piece of corporate upheaval since [Steve] Jobs went back to Apple”.

Susan Arnold, the Disney chair, said: “We thank Bob Chapek for his service to Disney over his long career, including navigating the company through the unprecedented challenges of the pandemic. The board has concluded that as Disney embarks on an increasingly complex period of industry transformation, Bob Iger is uniquely situated to lead the company through this pivotal period.”

Iger said: “I am extremely optimistic for the future of this great company and thrilled to be asked by the board to return as its CEO.”

Disney did not publish a statement from Chapek.

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